Citing ‘housing emergency,’ 15 mayors pledge to boost construction
SOMERVILLE — The mayors of 15 cities and towns in the core of Greater Boston agreed Tuesday to sharply accelerate the pace of home construction in a bid to help tackle the region’s housing crisis.
A coalition of municipal leaders from Braintree to Newton to Winthrop set a goal to add 185,000 new homes by 2030, to keep pace with the job and population growth that is driving up the demand for housing — and the prices.
”Our region is in the midst of a housing emergency,” said Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone. “It has deep and disastrous impacts.”
The pledge builds upon a new plan laid out last week by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who increased his city’s new-housing target by 30 percent, to 69,000 additional units by 2030. That would account for a little more than one-third of the goal announced Tuesday. The rest would come from cities and towns around Boston, some of which have built relatively little new housing in recent years.
The plan calls for 185,000 homes to be built over the next 12-plus years in the 15 municipalities, compared with the 32,500 that have been permitted since 2010. That would mean building at a clip that is more than three times as fast as the region has built over this decade, and at twice the rate of the past few years.
The plan did not set goals for each city and town — those may come later, said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which supported the effort and is rolling out a collection of strategies they think could help. But it’s a recognition that housing costs are a regional problem, one that the entire region should be tackling together.
“No one community can do this alone,” Draisen said.
With Greater Boston facing some of the steepest rents of any metropolitan area in the country, housing developers have been searching for places to build apartment and condo buildings, especially near MBTA stations and in neighborhoods close to job centers in downtown Boston and in Cambridge, as well as the region’s many colleges and universities.
Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke rattled off a string of housing developments proposed and built in her city, many near Medford Square and planned stops on the future Green Line extension.
“We will hit our goals,” Burke said of the 2030 deadline.
But some of the mayors who joined in Tuesday’s announcement may have a sales job ahead of them.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller acknowledged that housing developments in her city have faced pushback from residents worried about the effects on traffic, schools, and general quality of life. She agreed Newton needs more housing, but the key, Fuller said, is planning it wisely — such as by building around Newton’s MBTA stops.
“We have to make sure this works for Newton,” she said.
When it comes to making the regional plan work, the devil will be in those sorts of details — how much gets built, where exactly, and what it looks like — said Chrystal Kornegay, executive director of MassHousing, a quasi-public state agency that finances affordable housing. Those conversations, she said, won’t be easy, especially in cities and towns where resistance to new housing can be strong.
“Building housing in this region takes courage,” Kornegay said. “We believe very strongly in involving local people in local decisions, and that can get messy.”
The administration of Governor Charlie Baker has tried to make it a little cleaner, encouraging cities and towns to develop near transit facilities and by pushing a bill in the Legislature during the last session that would allow municipalities to lower the threshold for zoning changes, from a two-thirds approval vote by a local government council to a simple majority. But even that modest proposal failed to get through the Legislature, a sign of how hard it can be to address the region’s housing crisis from Beacon Hill.
That leaves mayors and other city officials — including those who gathered under a tent in the mist Tuesday in front of an affordable housing development in East Somerville — in the forefront. They see the effects of the region’s high housing costs every day, said Curtatone, who grew up nearby, the son of Italian immigrants who were able to scrape together enough to buy a house and raise a family in Somerville. Today, he said, that’s harder for many families to pull off.
“We hear you,” Curtatone said. “We’re listening. And we want to lead.”